We are seeing a growing trend of women dressing more conservatively. More women are dressing to be noticed for style and fashion rather than in a manner that might be considered overtly sexy. Styles on the “modest” continuum range from apparel that offers fuller coverage for religious reasons to pieces that offer less coverage but are artistic, interesting and fashion-forward.
I spoke with Sonia Trehan, cofounder of RUH Collective, a mainstream modest fashion company that launched in June 2016. The founders set out to create a modern brand that would appeal to a thoughtful, fashion-forward woman, and Trehan admitted that the company had an interesting start. She had studied religion at Columbia University, specializing in Islam, and met her cofounder, Soni Ruh, the brand’s fashion designer, after graduation. While at Columbia, Trehan had learned that many Muslim women use fashion to express their identity and break down stereotypes, and she and Ruh wanted to create a brand that was modern, fresh and mainstream rather than focused on religion in the same way that many other modest brands were. The RUH Collective website now offers carefully curated, sustainably made items such as palazzo pants, jumpsuits, joggers, maxi dresses, kimonos, tops and skirts.
When RUH Collective launched, Trehan anticipated that 70% to 80% of its customers would come from the Muslim community, as the company’s clothes, being long and loose, are technically geared to Muslim women. However, she was surprised to learn that non-Muslim professionals ages 20–35 not only accounted for approximately half of the brand’s sales, but were also some of the brand’s biggest champions.
When Trehan discovered that sales were being generated from this unexpected customer base, she reached out to a few customers and asked if they would mind speaking to her, so she could learn more about their preferences and choices. Some of the young professionals she spoke with told her that they felt comfortable in long, beautiful, interesting clothes and that they felt they did not have to be obvious about being sexy. Some customers who were more artistic and creative said they enjoyed dressing in a way that evoked different cultures. One said that she enjoyed wearing more subtle styles as opposed to being “the woman in the miniskirt.”
Trehan added that some customers expressed joy when they learned about the company’s sustainability initiatives—where the company makes its clothes, the factories it uses and the ethical processes it adheres to. She noted that RUH Collective’s core customer is a thoughtful person who is interested in how these clothes make her feel and how they feel on the skin.
Trehan was also surprised to learn from some of RUH Collective’s Muslim customers that they felt conflicted and somewhat suspicious about the burgeoning modest fashion market. Due to recent hype about the industry, these customers were not sure which brands they could trust, and some felt as though retailers were simply targeting them as a group to make money off of them. Trehan said that this was critical in really understanding the company’s core customer and how she was feeling and identifying with who she was. At the end of the day, we all want the same things, Trehan noted, and our clothes should be inspiring and aspirational and beautiful, no matter what styles we choose.